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Forget the tiger. Put some mushrooms in your tank Gene scientists turn waste into fuel for Europe's cars
Robin McKie, science editor Sunday November 21, 2004 The Observer
Where there's muck, there's gas. Scientists have created genetically modified yeasts and fungi that can turn agricultural waste into fuel for cars and trucks. In future we may take to the roads in vehicles powered by left over plant remains.
The technology - created with European Union money - uses corn stubble and other farm waste as basic ingredients for making ethanol. This can then be used as a substitute for petrol.
This project has been hailed by researchers and politicians because it could help Europe make major cuts in its massive oil import bill. Apart from North Sea oil, which is now drying up, nearly all the Continent's oil and petrol is imported.
'Transport is a potential horror story for Europe,' Wiktor Raldow, head of renewable energy for the European Commission, told a bio-energy conference in Sweden last week. 'We are 98 per cent reliant on oil, 70 per cent of it imported. We have to find alternatives - and quickly.'
The project uses biomass, organic matter from plants. Sources include wood, crops, and agriculture and forestry waste. Traditionally, they have been burnt as a fuel or just to get rid of them, though corn stubble is now ploughed into the ground in the UK because of the impact of burning on the environment.
'We can no longer afford to waste our biomass,' said project scientist Professor Lissa Viikari, of the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland. 'Brazil makes 150,000 million litres of fuel by fermenting sugar cane [so] reducing the country's dependence on oil. Europe has to match that.'
But European crops are far harder to turn into ethanol than sugar cane. Corn stubble and wood from willow and spruce trees are rich in chemicals such as cellulose, and these are hard to break down during fermentation. To get round this, the team, based in Scandinavia, Hungary and Italy, has turned to the techniques of gene splicing.
First, they have added genes to species of common wild fungi. 'Fungi make enzymes, chemicals that act like tiny scissors that can cut up complex strands of organic material,' said project leader Katy Reczey, of Budapest University. 'These enzymes are quite good at breaking down cellulose, but not good enough. We have improved on nature by splicing extra genes into fungi so they make even better enzymes.'
These 'souped-up' enzymes are used to treat the corn stubble and wood, breaking down the cellulose into fragments that can be more easily digested by yeast during fermentation. The team has also genetically altered the yeasts used to ferment their cellulose fragments into ethanol, again boosting production.
More than 75 million tonnes of stubble are left each year from Europe's harvests. Fermenting it all would create 250,000 million litres of ethanol, equal to the world's entire current production.
In addition, such fuel does not increase global warming. The carbon dioxide released by burning ethanol is absorbed by the corn, spruce and willow plants which are grown the following year, so the gas is effectively recycled.
Ethanol is only a partial substitute for petrol, which can be diluted by 10 per cent by it.
The mixture will burn happily in a normal car engine. 'It may not seem much but a 20 per cent cut in oil imports would be a significant help for Europe,' said Reczey.
Ethanol: the facts ? More than five billion litres of ethanol are used as fuel in Canada and the US a year, about 1 per cent of the petrol volume. ? All cars made since 1970 can use up to 10 per cent of ethanol in their petrol without changes. ? Henry Ford designed his 1908 Model T to run on the chemical. ? It is a depressant that makes people who swallow it less able to make responsible decisions. ? Oscar Wilde said ethanol, 'if taken in sufficient quantities, produces the effects of intoxication'.
-------------------- All mushrooms are edible ..... once
"? It is a depressant that makes people who swallow it less able to make responsible decisions. ? Oscar Wilde said ethanol, 'if taken in sufficient quantities, produces the effects of intoxication'."
thats just funny the way they stated it.
"in times of widespread chaos and confusion, it has been the duty of more advanced human beings - artists, scientists, clowns, and philosophers - to create order. In such times as ours however, when there is too much order, too much m management, too much programming and control, it becomes the duty of superior men and women and women to fling their favorite monkey wrenches into the machinery. To relieve the repression of the human spirit, they must sow doubt and disruption"
"People do it every day, they talk to themselves ... they see themselves as they'd like to be, they don't have the courage you have, to just run with it."